Since we can’t travel at the moment, I am traveling virtually. I made a dreamboard the other day which was a lot of fun. And as another replacement I am making reviews about travel destinations. Sounds like a good second best plan, don’t you agree?
Breda is the hometown of both Tom and me. It is a cozy, provincial town with a beautiful historic center. In the months before we left Breda to emigrate to Spain, I wandered around a lot, already feeling like a tourist, taking loads of pictures.
Most Spanish people give a sign of recognition when they hear that we are from Breda. The town was under siege during the 80-year war between the Spaniards and the Dutch. Our new friends know because Diego Velázquez made a painting of the surrender of Breda.
We Dutch don’t call the painting La rendición de Breda (The surrender of Breda) but Las Lanzas (The Spears). Pretending it is the title by giving it a Spanish name, but it’s only called that way in the Netherlands, so nobody knows what we’re talking about. ROFLOL
Anyway, the original is in Museo del Prado in Madrid. There is only a copy to be seen in Breda, in the Old Town Hall.
Main tourist attractions in Breda
I have to admit that there are only tufts of historic buildings left. Much was demolished in the 60s and 70s of the last century. And for me it is a disappointment that the streets around those monumental buildings are mainly shopping streets that can be found in every city in the Netherlands.
However, a lot of effort has been put into modern buildings and urban planning. Nowadays more tourists are visiting Breda for the Chassé district with the urban planning of OMA, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, than to look at the historical sites.
Without history there is no today or tomorrow, so I’ll start with some historical buildings:
1. Grote Kerk – Big Church
The name is Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk, or in English The Church of Our Lady, but popularly it’s called the Grote Kerk. The building is Gothic. Meaning a lot of upward lines and exuberant detailing.
In the 15th century, when it still was a Catholic church, the sacrament of the miracle of Nieuwervaart was moved to this church, bringing a lot of pilgrims to the city. And as you know people visiting towns means more money coming in, and more money means bigger buildings.
In time the alterations made the tower bigger and bigger until its present height of 97 meters.
The struggle between Catholics and Protestants resulted in the Beeldenstorm (Iconoclastic Fury), in which many statues were destroyed. Since then, De Grote Kerk has been a Protestant church.
Even with a lot of statues and decorations destroyed, nowadays it’s really hard to maintain a beautiful church like this. So there are some masses during the year, but most of the time the church is either to be viewed by interested tourists or to be rented for events.
2. Begijnhof – Beguinage
Wrongly Beguines are sometimes thought to be nuns. Although they were devout women, they never took the vows. They benefited from living together, secluded and protected, but were economically independent. They had jobs, for instance as caretakers.
In present days this gated area is occupied by ‘normal’ people and restricted to female residents. Male visitors are not allowed between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Can you believe how funny it was when the other day there was a fire alarm in the middle of the night and next to all these women there were a couple of shivering men standing in the kitchen garden? Times they are a changin’. 🙂
3. Spanjaardsgat – Spaniards gate
The Netherlands were occupied several times by the Spaniards and in Breda they had their headquarters in the Castle of Breda.
In 1590 we had our own Trojan horse: peat skipper Adriaan van Bergen hid soldiers in his boat under the peat and entered the castle for his fuel delivery. That’s where the name comes from, Spanjaardsgat, the hole of the Spaniards. The gap that emerged in their defense.
There is only one small problem: this water gate was built in 1610! The ship sailed into the castle a bit further away. So the story doesn’t match the reality!
Just outside Breda lies the castle Bouvigne. A Renaissance building surrounded by water. It is state property now, after being in the hands of the royal family of Orange for several centuries.
My mother has very dear memories of this castle. She was a youth leader working for the Catholic association that organized activities for young girls in the 30s of the 20th century. Her eyes always lit up when she talked about that period or showed me the pictures of the community dances and the hat she wore.
5. Chassé theater
You might have the impression there are only old buildings in Breda. Nothing is less true. Definitely visit the Chassé theater, built in 1995 by the famous architect Herman Hertzberger.
There are two remarkable things about this building. One is the roof with its feminine curves. For the second sight you have to go inside. The neighboring building (a former convent and now a casino) slides into this theater and adds a little piece of 17th century to this 20th century building.
That’s not all
I highlighted these 5 buildings that can be visited all in one day. Yet, if you have more time at your disposal, there is a lot more worthwhile visiting.
To mention a few:
- Stedelijk Museum Breda, which resides in a 17th century Old Men’s House with a 20th century build annex;
- Belcrum district, a 30s residential area with some abandoned factories and a beautiful Water Tower. The district is a breeding ground for the creative industry, which takes good use of the old factories;
- Chassé district, the urban planning was done by OMA and the different apartment buildings were designed by several other architects.
There are also several events that are worth the effort of a visit, like Graphic Matters, a graphic design festival and the biannual Breda Photo. I have been a voluntary guide for these festivals, so there is a lot to tell. I’ll save that for another time!
Have you ever visited Breda? I hope I have tempted you now to do it. Let me know in the comment box.